Verizon Defense Persuades MDL Judicial Panel that Class Actions Arising out of Governmental Surveillance of Telecommunication Activity and Verizon’s Participation or Cooperation in such Activity Would Benefit from Transfer to Northern District of California
After seventeen (17) class action lawsuits were filed in thirteen (13) federal courts against Verizon Communications, AT&T, BellSouth and certain affiliated companies arising out of the federal government’s telecommunication surveillance activities, and the defendants’ participation in, or cooperation with, that activity, Verizon’s defense attorneys moved the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) to transfer the cases to the District Court for the District of Columbia. In re National Security Agency Telecommunications Records Litig., 444 F.Supp.2d 1332 (Jud.Pan.Mult.Lit. 2006). AT&T and BellSouth joined in Verizon’s motion. Most responding parties agreed to centralization for pretrial purposes but suggested transfer to the Northern District of California. The Judicial Panel noted, however, “Some parties oppose[d] transfer because they view their actions to be more narrowly drawn (such as with respect to breadth of defendants, nature of alleged improper conduct, range of legal theories, or type of relief sought) then other MDL-1791 actions, and they thus seek to avoid entanglement in a litigation which they deem to be broader in scope.” Id., at 1334.
The Judicial Panel granted the defense motion, explaining that pretrial coordination “does not require a complete identity or even majority of common factual issues as a prerequisite to transfer.” Id., at 1334. The Panel also found compelling the federal government’s claim that centralization would address security concerns arising out of the highly classified nature of the information at issue in the litigation. Id. The Panel decided, however, to transfer the cases to the Northern District of California, in part because the first action was filed in that court and the judge was “well versed in the issues presented by the litigation.” Id., at 1335.